Aceh moves to make syariah canings private

JAKARTA: Two months after Indonesia's most conservative province drew international headlines for publicly caning two young gay men for having sex with each other, the governor is considering making such whippings private to avoid negative media attention and prevent any adverse impact on outside investment, reported the New York Times.

The proposed changes in Aceh province have caused a stir in Indonesia ever since local media reported that President Joko Widodo had met newly inaugurated Governor Irwandi Yusuf to discuss ways to improve the province's international image.

In an interview with local media, Vice-Governor Nova Iriansyah said that because of the international attention on public whippings, "we will minimalise press coverage and conduct it inside prisons. Right now it's in front of the mosque, right after Friday prayers."

He added: "I think the national government is right that we have to do something."

In a statement, the governor's office emphasised the provisional nature of the discussions to end public canings. It also noted that the decision required approval from Muslim scholars and Aceh's legislature.

Even as the Indonesian province considers moving public floggings indoors, Kelantan  passed a law last Wednesday allowing it to hold public canings for syariah law offenders.

Currently, caning in Malaysia is conducted in private, often in prison.

Bernama quoted Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom as saying Saturday that a prison whipping can be deemed to be a public caning under Islam.

He said public caning in Islam only requires more than two observers.

"In prison there are already more than two people including the doctor who is there to observe, the religious officer, the offender's escort and others on duty," Datuk Seri Jamil was quoted telling reporters in Kedah.

He also said that public caning under syariah law had already been implemented outside the prison in Tawau in Sabah.

On caning days in Aceh, huge crowds usually gather to watch as convicts are publicly beaten.

Long-time critics of public caning said they were glad to hear the punishment might be phased out.

"It will mean nobody will be publicly humiliated any more," Ratna Sari, the head of progressive group Women's Solidarity, Aceh told the New York Times.

Nonetheless, she said it was only a "small step forward", since canings will still be conducted, only out of sight.  - The Straits Times/Asia News Network



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